Black Friday apps: Deals are important, but customer experience is the priority



Retailers are always trying to hone their mobile experience to reach customers on the move, and shoppers are never more mobile than on Black Friday. Having an effective app strategy in place will be more important this year than ever before, with many shoppers planning to do more shopping on mobile than they have in the past.

Of course, the hottest tech in mobile retail at the moment is iBeacons, and many retailers' app strategies will center on harnessing their targeting capabilities. But while pushing promotions to customers in the appropriate aisle or in the vicinity of certain products will be an important element, it shouldn't be the primary focus, according to Jeff Simpson, director, Deloitte Consulting.

"For a long time there was this intense focus on using apps as just another channel to deliver coupons and in some cases messaging, but it's clear that the next wave of apps are really focused on things like way-finding and changing the customer experience," he said. "There's almost perfect information on pricing now no matter where you go. The differentiator in our mind is availability and location."

Deals are especially well-publicized around Black Friday, which makes it all the more essential to use beacons as a means of customer service, to improve the in-store experience via mobile. Target's (NYSE:TGT) updated app now includes interactive maps and shopping lists to better let customers know what items they have and where to find them.

The same is true of incorporating QR or barcode scanning into retailer apps. While that technology was marginalized early on as a novel way to push messaging or coupons on consumers, many stores have found success with scanning as a means of delivering enhanced product information. Customers are able to use a store's app to scan the item they're interested in and learn more about it, improving their browsing experience.

But shoppers won't be relying just on the information retailers provide them on Black Friday. A Deloitte study earlier this year found that 75 percent of consumers were influenced by product information found on social channels. Samya Ghosh, Mindtree's general manager, digital practice, believes that encouraging shoppers to share their experience through retailer apps is important not just in-store, but also in between shopping runs.

"During 'downtime' shoppers are fixated on their phone and interacting with their social network," he said. "Retailers need to incentivize consumers to tell their social network about their shopping experience, in real-time."

In many ways, that review information is more valuable to retailers after the shopping frenzy is over, according to Simpson. In-store mobile use allows a closer look than ever before at the decision-making process as customers consider factors like price, size and usefulness that were completely opaque.

"Now with the digital experience, you can watch the customer go through that list of things, and that moment of truth when they pull it off the shelf or pull their credit card out to buy it, digital and mobile can affect that in a way we've never been able to affect it before," Simpson explained. Deloitte research shows a 40 percent increase for in-store conversions for retailers who incorporate mobile and digital.

Some retailers may fear that providing more product and pricing information could encourage showrooming, especially with deals flying around at every possible purchase point on days like Black Friday. Including price comparisons in-app can actually provide the opportunity to combat showrooming on retailers' own terms, though, if handled right. Ghosh recommends monitoring price inquiries and triggering real-time offers and incentives that can help reduce the price gap.

But for all the focus on apps, there's another aspect of the mobile experience retailers can't forget on Black Friday: mobile Web. Despite the clear distinction between the mobile site and app for many companies, it turns out that shoppers rarely make that same distinction.

"What's pretty clear is that the customer doesn't distinguish between mobile apps and the mobile Web experience anywhere near to the extent retailers think about it when designing them," Simpson warned. "A bunch of our research will tell you frequently consumers don't know the difference between the mobile app experience and the Web experience."

That means retailers have to prioritize a consistent, high-quality experience between mobile sites and apps, something that is important to the user experience on Black Friday weekend but starts well before then. Most customers decide where to shop before they leave home, especially now that doorbuster deals are announced weeks in advance. That means retailers should view their mobile Web experience as an acquisition channel that creates new loyal customers likely to download the app.

Without taking that initial step, retailers might not even get a shot at Black Friday shoppers.